abSintherklaas

Or, if we’d split up the words: Absinthe and Sinterklaas. Which is just clever wordplay if Sinterklaas means anything to you.

Anyway, I’ve been planning to do this post with the janky title for some years now, but there was always something that got in the way. Also, I’ve been wanting to get into Absinthe a bit. At least I want to try some more samples to see whether or not I like it.

The samples I’m about to review are pretty old. Not the absinthe, but the samples. I think I’ve had them for around five years in the booze queue, but the closures were still fine so I think I’m good.

A bit of history first:

When I visited San Francisco in 2009 I started liking cocktails, with a focus on Sazeracs. For that you need a tiny measure of absinthe, so I bought a bottle. It’s been sitting partially empty on my shelf for eight years now, since I’ve never gotten further in my cocktail making. I still do the occasional Sazerac (like once a year or so), but that’s it.

Then, in 2011 I found myself in San Francisco again, with a bit less on the schedule so there was a bit more time for having a proper dinner, which we did at an awesome place called Absinthe. Of course, I had a proper absinthe there as well and was quite enamoured by it.

We also visited St. George Distillery in Alameida, which also makes a pretty great absinthe. Enough reasons to investigate further.

So, samples were bought but never tasted. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t overspend without getting a proper bearing first. The St. George and a bottle of Jade Absinthe were purchased on top of the Pernod I already had.

I did NOT open these bottles for this comparative tasting, mostly since I still have more than enough booze to get through before opening more non-whisky bottles. With the speed I’m drinking that stuff now, I might even get around to them before I’m 200 years old.

I’m not going to give you a run down of what Absinthe actually is, since I don’t really feel like rewriting what others have done much better. You can find information quite easily.

Let’s try some, shall we?

absinthe-verte-bottle-2014

Absinthe Verte, Adnams, 66%

Neat: On the nose it’s quite wintry with fennel, lemon and some snowy crispness. Quite ‘green’ too, as in, herbaceous. The palate is tingling with a lot of boozy sharpness, with a gentle flavor. Roasted fennel, sweet citrus and some licorice. The finish is suddenly a tad chemical with lots of bitter herbs. It has the same flavors, but it just turned ‘not good’.

With about 50% ice water: A lot more aniseed and a lot more gentle. Still tingling with sweeter citrus and a slight bitterness.

610298a2Absinthe Rouge, Adnams, 66%

Neat: This slightly less traditional one is slightly less crisp and warmer. A slightly unorthodox absinthe to start with, since it’s not green but red. That’s done with hibiscus flowers, by the way. More licorice, fennel and a lot of red cinnamon, that spicy kind. The palate is insanely dry and sharp with cinnamon, ginger, black pepper and a certain herbaceous woodiness (the worm wood?). The finish is mostly fennel and cinnamon before it mellows.

With about 50% ice water: This one becomes sweeter too but stays on the fennel and cinnamon route. A lot less dry and less sharp, with aniseed in the finish.

francois-guy-absinthe

Francois Guy Absinthe, 45%

Neat: This one is an aniseed bomb, with just a tiny bit of fennel on the nose. The palate is thick and syrupy, with a sugary sweetness. Also a lot of aniseed, not unlike ‘gestampte muisjes‘ (powedered aniseed and sugar, something to eat on sandwiches). There’s no depth, and the finish doesn’t change that.

With about 50% ice water: It mellows a bit and the sweetness is a bit more diluted. Because of that there’s a bit more room for a touch of herbs.

la-fee-parisienne-absintheLa Fee Parisienne, 68%

This one is so green it makes me doubt my choice to buy it. It’s a color that doesn’t occur in nature, I think.

Neat: The biggest difference between this and the previous one is the ABV. There’s more licorice root, but still it’s mostly aniseed. Maybe some bayleaf too? The palate is sweeter than the nose made me expect, slightly syrupy with aniseed and licorice root. The combination of aniseed and an ABV this high makes me think of mouthwash more than anything else.

With about 50% of ice water: Is this absenthe? As in, there being no wormwood or so? It doesn’t go cloudy with ice cold water, which the others did at some point. Otherwise, nothing really changes, apart from the ABV.

cold-distilled-absintheCold Distilled Absinthe, Master of Malt, 91.2%

The ABV is NOT a typo. I consider this more of a gimmick than anything else, since I don’t really see a reason to make anything that strong.

Neat: It’s herbaceous with aniseed, fennel and some heavier notes in the background. What mostly stands out is that the ‘snowy crispness’ I found on the nose of the green Adnams is turning to a blistering cold here. This is quintessential crispness. The palate a bit bipolar without water. The crispness is there, but the heavier tones of licorice and sweet citrus are combatting it. I almost get a chai like heaviness. It’s bone dry, by the way. The finish is mostly fennel, aniseed and dry twigs.

With about 50% of ice water: With 50% water it’s still pretty strong, and the flavors are slight less intense, but very similar. It’s a bit sweeter too.

Conclusion

My main conclusion is that I either:

A) Don’t like absinthe as much as I thought I did, or

B) Bought the wrong samples

The Cold Distilled one and the Adnams were the best of the bunch, with the Adnams Absinthe Rouge being the more interesting of the bunch. The extremely green Fee Parisienne and the rather bland Francois Guy are too simple with not enough depth to really get into.

So, in the end I didn’t drink any of the samples completely, and in a way I’m a bit in doubt as to what to do with my remaining closed bottles. Either see if I like these better, like I did half a decade ago when I bought them, or try to get some of my money back by selling them (if that would work out).

In general, I’m glad I didn’t buy more. I liked trying them, but I was quick to grab a whisky afterwards, to drink something that I actually, really like…

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Bowmore 2001, 15yo, 55.6% – Signatory for The Whisky Exchange

This Bowmore did get a bit of talking about in a bottle share group I’m in. Mostly because it clocks in at 160 quid per bottle, which seems like a lot for a 15 year old Bowmore. This was extra surprising since it’s been bottled by Signatory, a bottler normally known and appreciated for having quite acceptable prices for their single casks.

However, with the popularity of anything Islay, and especially slightly older whiskies from that island, it’s also not very surprising. Keep in mind that there are vast amounts of seven to ten year old Islay whiskies out there, but the older ones are much more rare.

So, a fifteen year old Bowmore from a bourbon cask, bottled at cask strength. I guess you can’t really go wrong there. It’s just a matter of seeing how good it is, instead of seeing whether or not it’s good.

Sniff:
bowsig2001v2On nosing this Bowmore, I immediately get a bit of a mezcal like smokiness. Slightly diesely, some fruity acidity with hints of citrus. A bit dirty, all in all. Lemon and lime pith with hints of bitterness.

Sip:
The palate is more smooth than I expected, but quite rich and intense. Dry with herbs, wood and twigs. Newly shaved oak with bitter lemon and lime rind.

Swallow:
The finish is long and gently warming. Some herbs and lemon and lime again. Oak and cedar (pencil shavings).

After typing up my tasting notes I checked Ruben’s notes on this whisky and it looks like we had two different whiskies. Now I know he is more versed in fruit flavors and scents, but I’m very surprised by the difference in notes.

Anyway, it’s all very personal of course. In this case it does mean that I’m not as huge a fan of this as he is. It’s a good dram, don’t get me wrong, but I find it not overly complex and fairly straight forward. The lemon and lime keep coming around and I’m missing a bit of balancing sweetness. Of course there’s a hint of smoke woven through the entire dram, and since it’s a Bowmore that’s not overly punchy.

Again, a very good dram but not a stellar one.

88/100

Bowmore 2001-2017, 15yo, Hogshead 20117, 55.6%, Signatory for The Whisky Exchange. Available there for £160.

A big thank you to The Whisky Exchange for sending the sample!

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Highland Park 1995-2017, 22yo, 53.2% – Gordon & MacPhail for The Whisky Exchange

So, yet another sample sent to me from The Whisky Exchange. It’s the same as with everything in London: I should visit it sometime. Somehow, London seems elusive to me. It’s been on my wishlist for years, but it’s never become a reality yet. Maybe because traveling on my own is not something that happens on a regular basis (as in, just once, ever) and my wife would like to visit London in a slightly different way than I envision when think ing about all the whisky and beer (and their respective communities) I’d like to see and visit…

Anyway, another sample. A 22 year old Highland Park is quite a promising thing. An independent bottling, since it would otherwise have cost about 400 euros or so, and now it’s only (“only”) 150 pounds. Honestly, with the way things are going, quite a fair price.

I don’t try many Highland Park whiskies nowadays. Most of the original bottlings are coming out in all kinds of weird series with vast wooden cases or scaffolds or whatever. I generally try to stay clear of whiskies like that since I don’t really like the idea of paying a lump sum for packaging. Also, for a lot of releases the whisky doesn’t justify the price.

I’m not trying to give the Orkney distillery a lot of flack, since the quality of their regular releases is insanely high, and I know they make a lot of awesome whisky. It’s just that my preference is different to what is popular nowadays.

Aaaaaand I just realize I sounds like I’m 80 years old.

Let’s taste some whisky instead.

Sniff:
hlpgm1995It’s quite robust on the nose, with a slight salty edge. Some minerals, oak and barley. Some pastry and pear for sweeter notes. Star fruit, chalk and a very light whiff of smoke. A little bit coarse, and this combination of scents makes me think of rocky cliffs and wind and such. You know, Orkney.

Sip:
More thick and creamy in texture than the nose made me expect. Also slightly sweeter. Soy milk, and dry oak. Yellow fruits and barley. Star fruit, apple, pear skin. It’s getting dryer as you let it swim. There is some staleness, as dusty attics can be, with a whiff of smoke. A complex dram, this.

Swallow:
The finish is very dry again, with a focus on barley and oak at first. Quite heavy and wintry. More minerals and marram grass.

If you think the above sounds lovely in a whisky, I agree with you. This is a cracking dram, with a lot of depth and flavor. The palate is slightly different from the nose, but still rather balanced. And what helps is that this is the exact style of whisky that I enjoy. A lot of flavors, of which a lot are distillate driven. Some cask influence and the dram itself tasting rather mature. All good things.

Regarding the score, I was on the fence between 89 and 90 points, but I slightly prefer the Cadenhead’s one that I reviewed a while ago, so this one can only be 89 points… Maybe I should have given that 91.

But it sure is good, and the 150 quid price tag is rather justifiable.

89/100

Highland Park 1995-2017, 22yo, Cask 1498, 53.2%, Gordon & MacPhail for The Whisky Exchange. Available only at The Whisky Exchange at £150

Thanks for the sample, TWE!

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Black Friday 16yo, 54% – The Whisky Exchange

Last week I was sent a sample from The Whisky Exchange for their Black Friday whisky. There was not much information given except the age and the abv, and throughout the week we got morsels of information fed by the guys at The Whisky Exchange to keep us interested. Their request was simple: Don’t talk about it until Friday the 24th, and then put up a review.

Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I did that in time, so here I am posting a review of a whisky that was released about two hours ago and sold out in fifteen minutes. FIFTEEN minutes.

Oh, and the info is that it’s a 16 year old, cask strength, sherry matured whisky from a Speyside, family owned distillery. I don’t think I have to tell you that is jargon for Glenfarclas.

Sniff:
It’s incredibly aromatic with lots of scents coming from the glass, even without actually sniffing it. It leads on Oloroso or a similar sherry, with slightly funky and yeasty scents. I’d almost say the cask wasn’t emptied properly before they put the spirit in… Lots of apricots and dried pear, quite some oak and charcoal.

Sip:
Again, the sherry is very present, but in a very ‘real sherry’ way instead of just sweetness and fruit. Funky and yeasty, with oak. Rather strong at first and very dry. The apricots are the dominating fruit.

Swallow:
The finish intensifies a little bit at first, before mellowing out slightly. Lots of sherry again, again like there is actual sherry in this whisky. It’s rich and fruity. Also, the yeastiness is slightly different now. More like Brettanomyces like in Orval beers.

Have I told you guys I love Orval beers, and those funky, yeasty flavors? No? Well, I do. Also, the way the sherry behaves in this whisky is incredibly awesome, with it being very different than anything I’ve come across lately.

A truly unique dram, and a great pick by the guys at The Whisky Exchange. A shame it sold out so quickly…

Also, not a surprise it did, since you don’t come across a 16 year old sherried single cask whisky for only 60 quid…

89/100

Black Friday 16yo, 54%, Glenfarclas, The Whisky Exchange

Thanks to TWE for sending a sample! It’s another great one!

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Irish Single Malt Whiskey, 1990-2017, 27yo, 51.3% – The Whisky Agency for The Whisky Exchange

I guess that’s the longest title I’ve ever used on my blog…

Anyway, with the current popularity of Irish whiskeys from the late eighties to mid-nineties, it’s no surprise to see these popping up here and there. I also realize that The Whisky Agency has (or had…) quite some casks of that stuff available since they’ve been bottling older Irish whiskeys for a couple of years now.

The Whisky Exchange has had at least one other, maybe more of these exclusives in recent years, and it’s interesting to see the two companies joining forces for this one. This is interesting since both The Whisky Exchange and The Whisky Agency are held in high regard for their bottlings. Them joining for this one should make this an instant hit.

Now, I think I have to say that these older Irish whiskeys have been a hit and miss for me. Some of the releases have been amazing, and some have been good but just a tad too sweet and candy-like for me.

Sniff:
irish_twa1990The nose starts rather crisp, with some sweet and fresh fruit. Slightly sugary grapes, tinned pineapple and apple. Then the slightly more rich cereal notes start coming through, with white bread and cream crackers. A hint of vanilla and pear drops later on.

Sip:
The palate is rich and slightly sweet, but not too sweet. Barley with ripe fruits. Slightly dryer than on the nose with crusty bread, fresh pineapple, apple. Some vanilla again, and those cream crackers.

Swallow:
The finish is more typical of these older Irish whiskeys with more sweetness and sugary notes. There ripe fruit and simple syrup. Some oak and some (not sure how this got triggered) beach wood.

Well, this one didn’t disappoint! The candy like sweetness is present, but it is far less intimidating than in a lot of other bottlings, which makes this is a really interesting whiskey. The combination of (non-standard) cereal notes, with lots of oak and fruit make for a great sipping whisky, if you ask me.

A really good dram, and a showcase for other Irish whiskeys. I’m so, so glad it doesn’t have that overpowering, plastic-y winegum smell. You know, the one you get when you smell the winegums in the bag. Chemicals, sweetness, and plastic. This one doesn’t have that. Awesome!

90/100

Irish Single Malt Whiskey, 1990-2017, 27yo, Bourbon Barrel, 51.3%, The Whisky Agency for The Whisky Exchange. Available at The Whisky Exchange for £ 260

Thanks to The Whisky Exchange for sending me a sample! Much obliged!

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Frapin 1993 Cognac, 43.2% – The Whisky Exchange

A little while ago I got a surprise sample of a new Cognac bottled for The Whisky Exchange, from producer Frapin. The biggest surprise was that they sent this to me since I know absolutely nothing about Cognac.

What I have been told at some point by a friend who knows quite a bit more about this kind of booze (DSA, looking at you!), is that Cognac is all about the blend. Most producers buy their grapes from farmers and distill and blend it for their own releases. So, that was another surprise, to find a single vintage cognac in my mailbox. Single vintage meaning that they severely limited their blending options.

Anyway, I was about to try a Cognac that I was going to review on my blog, without having much prior knowledge. I think the amount of Cognacs I’ve ever had in my life can be counted on one hand. And now I got a 1993 single vintage (meaning it’s 23 years old, if it was bottled this year). Let’s have at it!

Sniff:
cognc_fra1993It’s quite rich and full, and does remind me of some of the Armagnacs I reviewed a couple of years ago. Some grape must with a very heavy fruitiness. I get a slight whiff of glue with some overripe fruits. It gets more earthy later on.

Sip:
The palate is slightly dryer and a tad more intense than I expected. Rancio and something else that needs some explanation (See below). Quite dry with some tannins and blue grapes. Oak and banana too.

Swallow:
The finish is a bit lighter than the palate, but still quite dry. A bit more crisp which gives the fruit some more room to come through. The wood and tannins are reduced too. Quite rich still.

Explanation of what I wanted to say above:

I went to visit the Port houses of Porto (or, more accurately, Vilanova de Gaia) some years ago and did some tours of said Port houses there. They have huge vats sitting in the facilities that are used for blending and marrying different batches of Port. They told us that after a few years they need to scratch out those casks since they get covered in some kind of patina, that looks slightly greenish. There was a very specific scent to those casks and that’s what I got here too.

Anyway, without the burden of knowledge or experience, I can only tell you that I thoroughly liked this Cognac. It’s got quite some depth and flavors to explore, so it will keep you interested for a while.

With the extremely limited amount of knowledge of other Cognacs, I also have the feeling that is a more Armagnac like Cognac than some others, which I assume has something to do with the limited blending options. It’s quite old and can’t have been ‘spruced up’ by younger components, not made more heavy or deep by older ones.

So, in short, I really, really liked it. But I won’t rate it since the scale wouldn’t make any sense.

Frapin Cognac, 1993-2017, The Whisky Exchange Exclusive, 43.2%. Available at (duh) The Whisky Exchange, for 140 pounds.

TWE, thanks for the sample!

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Two Clynelishes from 1991 by The Ultimate

Some months ago I decided to open some Clynelish bottles from my collection and bottle share them. Of the four bottles opened, two are from The Ultimate, a Dutch independent bottler that’s been bottling for years. The two bottles were well aged whiskies from 1991, bottled in 2013 and 2014.

Now, normally, I’m not a huge fan of The Ultimate. They (and I from them) have had some utterly gorgeous whiskies over the years, but sometimes there’s a stinker in there that makes you instantly regret buying it. To avoid this, I’ve only been buying things from this bottler after tasting them, since I find it a huge waste of money to have stuff sitting on the shelves for years until I decide to make sauce.

This sounds rather negative, but I guess it goes for almost all bottlers out there. The main difference is that it happens a bit more often with bottlers that are considered ‘budget bottlers’ than with the more expensive ones. But in any case I really advise you to try before you buy.

But, after this random rambling from me, let’s get to the whiskies.

Clynelish 1991-2013, 22 years old, Hogshead 13216, 46%

80322-big

Image from Whiskybase

Sniff:
On the nose it starts with the typical Clynelish scents like candlewax, beeswax and some resin. There a soft scent of oak and autumn leaves. It’s has a slight rough edge with hints of nettles and other leafy greens.

Sip:
The palate starts slightly sharper than you’d expect from a well aged 46% whisky, but mellows quickly. It’s quite rich with waxy notes, resin and oak. It gets a bit more fruity with flavors of apple and pear. Quite dry too.

Swallow:
The finish then. This continues the smoothness that ended the palate. There are hints of dried apple, oak, honey and beeswax.

Honestly, this does everything you want it to do. A 20-something year old Clynelish that is completely predictable is a good thing, in most cases, and in this one it is too. I think this whisky could have been a bit more interesting when bottled at cask strength, but that is not a common thing for The Ultimate. The waxy notes are very present without dominating the whisky, and they leave enough room for the lighter hints of fruit, oak and leaves to come through. Very good indeed.

88/100


Clynelish 1991-2014, 23 years old, Hogsheads 13213 and 13214, 46%

 

Sniff:
This one has dry notes on the nose from the start. There are candles and waxine hints, with dried apple and cinnamon. Quite smooth, all together.

 

Sip:
The palate is as smooth as the nose, with more hints of oak, tree bark and dry leaves. A hint of white and black pepper adds a bit of spicyness, before the resin and candlewax comes through. Dried apple and cinnamon towards the end, like on the nose.

Swallow:
The finish is smooth and light, with dry oaky notes. Some bark, some cork. White pepper towards the end here too.

The second one, as you might have guessed is a bit different from the first. It’s drier and slightly more complex. This does, however, push back the waxy notes a bit, but luckily without completely masking them. The complexity makes it a bit more interesting to me, since there’s a bit more to discover. When you’re having your second, third or fourth glass of it, it doesn’t go completely predictable, which might happen with the first one.

89/100

Of course, both whiskies are mostly sold out now, since they were bottled quite a while ago. You might encounter one in a more off the beaten path shop, but I guess chances are getting low. They will pop up now and then in the secondary market, but prices have gone up significantly in the last year or so.

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